I read the T-nation Forums quite a bit and I constantly see questions like “What do I need to do to get bigger” or “Why aren’t I seeing results?” I know I can reflect on my own experience training in high school when I often wondered why I wasn’t jacked, ripped and swole despite all my training every week.
Now it seems obvious. I only benched about 240, I only squatted about 200 pounds, and deadlifted about 350. When I was the only guy my age that was serious about training (A product of going to a high school with no football or wrestling programs) I thought those numbers were good. I also read lots of muscle magazines and I distinctly remember reading an article that implied deadlifting 500 pounds meant you were on your way in strength training. I thought “I’m only 16 and I pull 70% of that, why aren’t I 70% as built as those guys?” Well, it doesn’t work that way.
If I had been training with serious powerlifters, strongman or even [gasp] bodybuilders I would have realized I needed to get even stronger than I was. I needed to increase the weights on my accessory work. I used the same weights in the same exercises for too long
So, I guess I’m saying that this shit is really simple. You just add weight and reps to your movements over weeks and weeks (months and years) of consistent training and you get bigger and stronger. So why don’t people do this? Well, I’m a fan of making lists, so here we go:
- The old axiom that you can’t add weight to the bar every time you train is very misleading for the neophyte trainer. You can’t add weight to the bar on the same movements week after week consecutively, but you can add weight to the bar for different movements week after week after week. Example: You are doing 5×5 on the bench. As soon as you can increase the weight you use for your heaviest set of 5, switch to a different movement, or at the very least, to a different rep range. This is the big one, I think this has ruined more years of training than anything else, and is the main reason people who ignored books, magazines and the internet got bigger and the rest of us didn’t.
- We are built for complacency. Storing away protein on our frames in the form of muscle mass is an energetically costly maneuver and something we’re probably programmed to avoid evolutionarily. Think about it, why do we build muscle in the first place? It’s a response to the mechanical stimulus we’re giving it. We do the work, provide the tension, structural damage and ischemia, and our body responds with a certain hormonal and cellular response that builds muscle. The caveat is, if we don’t increase our workload, workrate and tension over time, it’s easier for our body to respond with other factors (neural and metabolic, likely) than it is to accrete more protein. So, if we don’t watch ourselves, we can get stuck doing the same lame workouts week after week and never get any bigger/stronger.
- If you’re the biggest fish in a small pond, it’s easy to get complacent. If you work out in a normal mamby pamby gym, you might think a 225 bench is good, but really it sucks. Now, if you weight 100 pounds or are a woman, it’s pretty good. For everybody else, it sucks. Sorry to break your bubble, but if you haven’t doubled the weights you started training with, you’re doing something wrong. Look at what the strongest guys in the world at your weight are doing and try to emulate them. Don’t get down about comparing yourself with them, but use them as a yardstick, rather than the schmucks at your local 24 Hour Fatness.
- Realize that you can sack up and increase your weights or reps every week. The whole point of strength training is that it builds strength. If you can’t do more weight or more reps the next time you train a movement, you’re doing something wrong. You’re either training too soon (fatigue from the last time you trained is masking your improved strength), recovering incompletely (other training sessions or other factors may be delaying your recovery, namely under eating) or it’s just time to take a break. You’ll plateau on a movement after so long, it’s just a fact. The only other reason is that you’re just being a nancy, in which case you need to just do it. Find a new environment, get your shit together or quit and take up stamp collecting.
That’s it. Do this and eat a shit ton of protein, do some light or moderate cardio on your off days and you’ll be on your way.